Feminism, Social Media and Conversations

Year on year it is easier to access the internet, online communities and platforms such as social media. With this comes conversations open to anyone and everyone who wants to voice their opinion. Including those with lots of negative focus towards individuals and/or online "trolls". The question of whether I call myself a "feminist" or not, or what I understand the word to mean, is a whole series of blogs in itself. But the past few months worth of conversations with friends and acquaintances, and icons like Emma Watson becoming actively 'celebrity feminists', I joined the British Psychological Society and the University of Salford in Media City for a day conference entitled "Feminism and Social Media".

The conference, organised to celebrate International Women's Day, was promo'd to consider issues around women's movements, everyday sexism and the 'blurred lines' of social media.

The range of speakers was not only interesting and engaging, but also hugely inspiring. The day focussed around these questions...
What does being a feminist mean in the 21st century?
What are the new challenges facing women in an era marked by technological advances?
How do gender discussions invoke such public interaction on social media and what are the possibilities of controlling the agenda?

Dr Kirsty Fariclough-Isaacs started the series of talks by speaking about 'Celebrity Feminism and Social Media'. Dissecting celebrities including, Beyonce and Emma Watson's activities towards feminism based campaigns. Something that especially stood out to me was the gender binary issues of the #heforshe campaign that Emma is the public face of. I'll be honest until a few weeks ago, I had never heard of the 'gender binary' phrase. It basically means, in very geeky terms, 1 or 0 - which means this was referring to not just male of female, but every other variation people might want to be referred to as. I do a lot of LGBT work and I found this really exciting to hear others talking about, I hadn't thought of the campaign in that way before. Not everyone relates themselves to he or she, once you understand that the 'heforshe' tagline becomes a bit more muddled, as we want to make sure we capture *everyone*

The next speaker, Dr Meg John Barker, talked about 'Blurred lines around consent? Social Media and consent conversations'. Lots of best selling sex guides, online forums and magazine help columns along with the favourite movie of the moment, 50 Shades of Grey, and how that does or doesn't view consent. We looked at the concept that for however issue-laden the BDSM based blockbuster is, that at least it has open up more dialogues into the mainstream media about consent. Then the audience were treated to videos - both the originals and their parodies - such as Blurred Lines and 50 Shades of Grey trailer. These parody videos, especially the 'gender flipping meme' can help in understanding and discussion mainstream content. Again, the gender flipping needs to be careful to be sensitive of the gender binary issue.

Then a great regional voice from Dr Beth Bell and her topic 'Girls are more like, you know...' and gendered stories of teen photo-sharing on social media. Themes that young people are communicating on included Nudes, Selfies, Stuff/Products/Brands they bought and how they are using social media as a way of telling their stories. Social media, and indeed Community Media, can be used to tell stories that the mainstream media either ignore, or don't have the time, or access to connect with. It was also the first point in the day where Cyberpsychology was mentioned, and I think this is key in a large online and ever-changing landscape and online presence, for everyone in today's society.

With the title 'Feminism, religion and social media' Dr Kristin Aune, from The F Word, introduced her talk by comparing the 1970s newsletters that connected women, to today's society's women using the internet.
"The internet has been instrumental to today's feminist movement" with 7 in 10 women agreeing it's been key to the feminist movement, to follow up with "internet chat rooms, rather than factory floors".
This then linked nicely into women's right and equal pay for all. Unfortunately, something that hasn't changed much, years on.
Kristin went onto mention Slut-shaming, rape threats and gamergate, and most interestingly, the Feminist conflicts within feminism itself.
The quote I found most powerful from this talk was "is it being right is more important to be nice online?"

The fantastic and Guardian's top 30 under 30 in digital media, Reni Eddo-Lodge couldn't have been a better end to an inspirational day, for me. Reni labels herself as a feminist-activist and has been blogging and active on social media for over 10 years. She's used social media as an alternative way of getting active in places, she would normally probably not get very far in. Very similar to us and the union campaigning. Stats were shared on women logging in more than men and topping the gender balance in the users stakes on social media, apart from LinkedIn, so it's great to know that it's one of the best platforms to try and do our work on, connecting people together and sharing knowledge and opinions.

I was really interested to hear about generational resentment and the age old "those conversations have already happened" - Why are we having them again? Because it's still not the perfect world. Posts on #feminism on Twitter has increase 300 percent in the past 3 years, so it's clear there are people interested in following on the conversations.
But what happens when social media disappears forever? All of us activists need to think about how we are going to archive it all, so in years to come we can still look back on it.

Reni talked about how she accidentally ended up as a spokesperson, purely because she stood up for what she believed in and tried to spread the word to others. That's what we all need to do, discuss, share ideas, and stand up for what you believe in.